If beer goggles cloud one’s perception of people in a bar, perhaps Tony Awards goggles do the same for Broadway shows. Over 10 years after becoming the “must-see” show and winning a record-setting 12 Tony Awards, The Producers appeared on stage for three performances over the weekend at The Hollywood Bowl. I’m left wondering: What was the fuss all about?
I saw Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in the show and found it enjoyable but certainly not great. If hindsight is 20/20, then I was being kind. It’s not that special. There are some good jokes and Susan Stroman’s choreography is inspired (though limited in this brief production), but apart from “Springtime for Hitler” there isn’t another memorable song to be found.
The plot follows a once-successful producer (Richard Kind) who teams up with a nebbish accountant (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) to produce the worst musical possible in an effort to become rich by over-financing the show. They hire a lousy director (Gary Beach) to stage an awful musical by a Nazi-sympathizer (Dane Cook). What could go wrong? It’s a Mel Brooks musical, so perhaps you know the answer to that question.
I enjoyed Mr. Kind as Max Bialystock. By not trying to be as blustery as Nathan Lane he found a humanity that was compelling. I’m curious why Bialystock’s big second act number, “Betrayed,” was cut from this production. Was it time constraints or actor limitations? As Leo Bloom, Mr. Ferguson had moments that were pure delight and others where his voice was stretched beyond its capabilities. Mr. Cook was clearly having a good time -- as was Rebecca Romijn, who played Ulla, the secretary-cum-showgirl. It’s too bad her voice and accent weren’t as much fun for the audience. Gary Beach, along with Roger Bart (the director’s assistant) provided the most consistent performances, but they were original cast members and their experience showed.
Twelve Tony Awards for this? 2001 wasn’t the greatest year for original musicals, but that doesn’t account for the overwhelming support for The Producers. Perhaps it was the chemistry between Lane and Broderick. Broadway loves success and this was a juggernaut. In the end, this isn’t even a good show let alone a great one. I pray that the Hollywood Bowl doesn’t act on Mr. Brooks’ suggestion at the end of Sunday night’s performance that they do Young Frankenstein as a musical next year. I think I heard horses bray outside the Bowl immediately after that comment.
[Photo: Mathew Imaging]